Paul's story: my feelings about my body image are a 'work in progress'

This content mentions body image or generally discusses weight, which some people may find triggering.

I would sum up my current feelings about my body image as ‘a work in progress’. I’m very aware that my body isn’t anywhere near where I would like it to be from a physique perspective. However, I’m also much more conscious now of my health and have made good progress from where I was previously regarding my weight and body confidence.

At times, I’ve been unhappy with my body which has affected my confidence. I have found myself, at times, becoming jealous of others due to this, which can result in me being sensitive or argumentative.

My identity: taking pride in my appearance

I have always taken great pride in my appearance, fashion and looks and have always been outgoing and outwardly confident about this. As I was growing up, it was almost seen as a negative for a male to take pride in his appearance, and I would often be greeted with remarks or comments designed to emasculate me due to how I dressed or looked. Much of this was undoubtedly a persona, or caricature of myself, probably to mask some of my insecurities.

Photo of Paul

My 20s: stress and my changing body

In my teenage years, body image was viewed very differently. There was a strive to be thin, and this was what I perceived as being healthy. I was always considered quite thin up until my mid-20s. Due to working a lot of hours, I would often have a poor diet, not eat healthily or regularly, and I would gain weight due to eating the wrong foods or snacking. This extended to when I would be stressed or feeling down. I would often find comfort in taking away food, resulting in a vicious cycle of becoming more unhappy with my body.

This had a huge impact when I became a dad, and juggling my work life and becoming a new parent left very little time for me to focus on exercise or personal time. I gained weight and became unhappy with my appearance, which massively dented my confidence. This spiralled when my relationship with my partner ended, and I partly blamed myself and my appearance for being cheated on.

My 30s: finding myself a little lost

I found myself at a point where I was approaching 30 years old, a single dad and was terrified at the prospect of dating again. Historically, a super confident person, now finding myself a little bit lost in the era of technology and social media. This was a daunting prospect, but I’d say it was also the catalyst for me to focus on setting some goals for myself and my body. However unrealistic it seemed, social media and dating apps showed me a new benchmark for what people perceived as the norm... I suppose this ultimately affected me as I was much more aware of my body image and the want to change this.

The things that affect how I feel about my body

Various factors affect how I feel about my own body image now. I’ve been influenced by all of the above. Society as a whole has changed, with younger people now opting to use gyms as a social meeting point, whereas in my teenage years, this would probably have been a pub or club.

Generally, I see many more people who are fitter and more muscular at a young age. I think this is directly related to the rise of social media, where platforms such as Instagram allow people to project a perfect image of themselves onto society. Most people will know that this is merely a staged screenshot of someone’s life, yet so many (including myself) aspire to look good due to this.

Every mobile phone nowadays is used more for its camera than it is for phone calls, and with the huge increase in selfies and people wanting to show the world where they are and what they are doing, they also want to look good as they are essentially on show to the whole world.

I think social media, TV, celebs, and sports stars have all created pressure in society to aspire to a certain body. I think this all creates pressure on a certain age range to look this way, too and being unable to achieve this standard will ultimately affect people mentally. I think some people could also become quite narcissistic and rely heavily on cosmetic enhancement.

Men and body image

I think society still has some way to go on how body image is perceived by others and, ultimately, how others react to someone’s body image. Being body conscious is not exclusive to women, yet when a man takes pride in his appearance or has anxieties about his body, this is often met with a joke, sarcasm or a put down of sorts.

Many women talk openly to one another about their body, their image and their feelings towards this, yet this is a conversation that a lot of men simply would not have due to being ridiculed if they were to talk openly about weight, tanning, teeth whitening, waxing or hair loss etc.

I think supporting people in achieving their body goals is important without feeling pressured to conform to others. I think the dangers lie in how far some people may go to achieve this idea of perfection. More people need to realise that much of what we see on TV and in film is heavily staged with lighting and make-up, and this extends to social media. I think as a society, there needs to be an equal focus on promoting how people feel as much as how people look. This would encourage more people to be vocal about the issues they are experiencing.

I think being open enough to talk about some of my struggles has helped me approach any issues I’ve had. Having kept a lot of things bottled up, I now realise that talking about some of my concerns around body image can also help encourage others to engage in conversation about theirs.

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